Friday, June 12, 2009

Gifting, regifting and land mines

I'm awake. Breakfast has been eaten and now I'm relaxed with my cup of Jasmine green and black tea with a little honey. Life is good. Sort of.

Jimmy, the Mushroom, emailed me this morning to ask for my address. My niece, Alisha, is getting married in August and wants to send me a wedding invitation. Okay. What I don't get are her plans for marriage.

Until she graduates from college, which may take a while, she will live at home with her poor mom who has no one to take care of her. I guess JC and Alex don't count, and JC is the eldest of the three children. Bobbie has never needed anyone to take care of her -- or like her for that matter. She is a rock, an island, an often contentious one. At any rate, Alisha's new husband will live wherever he's living for the duration, presumably with conjugal visits. I never did understand my brother's wife and now I must extend that to my niece who has not spoken to or contacted me in about 10+ years. I didn't even seen her two years ago when I was there for a week before my father died and she never came to the hospital to see Dad. I was there almost the whole time. Jimmy was there, but his wife and none of his children visited and no explanation or excuse was given. After all, it wasn't a big deal. Dad only had terminal metastatic bone cancer. So the Mushroom's request for my address, something he could just as easily have obtained from Mom, Carol, Beanie or his daughter Alex, he requests of me.

I don't know if his request is a warning or just a simple request because the Mushroom didn't think of asking anyone else and I certainly do not know why I'm being included since they never bothered to invite me to birthday parties, family dinners and barely tolerated me when we spent Xmas Eve together. I couldn't tell you when my nephew and nieces birthdays are because I've never been a part of their celebrations or present during the births even though I lived in Columbus at the time, hence the questions.

The only reason I can think of is that since I will receive a wedding invitation I will be expected to respond with a wedding gift for the happy, if strange, couple. I received no such invitation to either JC's or Alisha's high school graduations and they received no gift. I give great gifts, thoughtful and personal gifts. However, I don't know Alisha all that well, except for a brief period on All Poetry when she was in her dark, cutting and suicidal phase and I keeping out a weather eye to warn the Mushroom of impending trouble. That was over five years ago. I find it difficult to buy a present for anyone I don't know well and really dislike generic presents. I like presents to mean something, to express a common bond and show my affection and regard (or disregard) for the person as in the poem I wrote about the first Xmas the Mushroom's wife shared with our family. It was a very memorable occasion, if I do say so myself.

Gifts have been a subject of a few discussions this week and it's one on which I have but a single opinion and it's similar to tipping for services rendered. If I can afford it, or conversely have the material to make it, gifts will be given that are commensurate with the service and my regard for the person.

I'm a spontaneous person, although my spontaneity can result in Machiavellian plans and schemes on the manner of delivering and sometimes purchasing the materials or gift in question. For instance, I took a very special book, one given to me by Andre Norton that she had signed, one of my favorites, and sent it to my grandson, Jordan, my youngest son's oldest child for his seventh birthday. I had previously been informed by AJ's wife, Jacque, that I was expected to make amends to Jordan, and presumably to AJ and her, for having slighted him for the first six years of his life with a very good gift. I also bought a book by Ray Bradbury beautifully illustrated and put it together with the Norton book. Then I designed and sent seven birthday cards.

The day it arrived I got a long, rambling and foully written email from my ex-husband's wife, AJ's stepmother, Brenda, blasting me for ruining Jordan's birthday by sending him such trash and including a book I autographed myself. She railed at me for several email pages for believing myself a writer when it was only the sycophantic fans of my blog who considered me a writer and for being a whore who had sleep with the entire seventh fleet and probably every marine, pilot and soldier in the western world despite being an ugly and ignorant whore. (I paraphrase of course. It would take far too long to list all my offenses.) How dare I ruin her grandson's birthday when he was expecting all the Harry Potter books. A few hours later I received another foul email from Jacque, my daughter-in-law, also blasting me for ruining Jordan's birthday. Where was my son in all this? And why did no one seem to remember that in their wandering they had never seen fit to even inform me of Jordan's birth until he was three years old and then to keep forgetting to send me a picture or their address? How could I have confused and upset Jordan so much as to send SEVEN birthday cards? What was I trying to do -- traumatize him?

Okay, I admit I felt a certain mischievous glee when I made each of the cards for all the missed birthdays, but I have never known a child to be confused or upset by getting birthday cards in the mail. They are usually delighted because it is such a new and exciting experience for them. Mail addressed to them and delivered by the mailman to them personally.

Where was my son in all this. I wanted to know and, not being a shy or retiring sort of person, I asked. Was he hiding behind his stepmother and wife, expecting them to do the dirty work? He finally responded via his wife's email to say he knew what was going on and he was also appalled and shocked that I would have deliberately hurt his son that way.

After several more foul emails from the female quarter and a phone call directly to my son, bypassing my daughter-in-law, the truth came out. Jordan's party was not until the following Saturday and he knew nothing of the gift. Brenda had been there when my son and his wife opened the package and flew immediately into a rage at me and my paltry gift when her grandson had expected all the Harry Potter books, including the one that was released on his birthday, something I had never promised since the gift would not arrive in time for Jordan's birthday.

Saturday's party came and went and I got a much different email from AJ that said Jordan was delighted with my gift and began reading the books before he even ate his cake. He loved the cards, too.

I find it difficult to believe in the innocence of anyone who, upon first contacting me, sends me a list of my grandchildren's birthdays and includes my own son's birthday and hers with a long list of what kind of gifts they want to receive from me. I can understand it for the grandchildren, but not for a daughter-in-law who has had nothing but contempt for me and had never contacted me in the past.

The gift road has been very rocky indeed over the past two years. Gifts sent to the children have been returned because the family moved and left no forwarding address, more than once. I have also been approached to send money instead of gifts to help them pay for something they wanted after being quite explicit about such a move. AJ has not contacted me in the past except to get money or information, so I have told them that I am not their personal ATM and I will not give them any money. If they want a relationship with me, it must be a two-way street. Have I mentioned that none of them has remembered my birthday, sent me a Xmas gift or card and have never sent me so much as a card on Mother's Day? They always claim, several weeks later that they sent an e-card and cannot understand why they didn't get it. And thank you notes for the gifts they have received? I have yet to see those either, although they have done better this last few months and the thank you emails arrive within a couple weeks.

Oh, there are a thousand gift stories in this naked city, and some of them are actually good ones. Please forgive me for mentioning the horror stories first. One should be aware there are always flies in the ointment.

I was brought up to believe that a gift received meant a thank you note or call or one personally given should follow and that you don't give gifts to people you don't really know. I believe gifts should be special and individual and should have meaning and take thought. That doesn't mean it has to be new, just not something you received you didn't like and couldn't wait to give someone else to get it out of the house. It also does not mean giving someone a gift they gave you that you didn't like and have forgotten the person gave to you. My ex-mother-in-law was good for that one. A gift should be memorable not make you shudder with disgust or shake with confusion. Most of all, it should be personal. Cost isn't an issue if it's someone you like or care about. And anonymous gifts are often the best, especially if the person would feel they should reciprocate. A simple thank you to whomever is sufficient. The message will be received and appreciated.

Gift giving can be a land mine with some people and with others a simple and honest joy. I prefer the latter to being expected to send a gift to someone I barely know simply because we are related. As far as I am concerned, gifts imply a relationship. Where there is no relationship, a simple card without a gift or money is sufficient. I'll bet you can guess what I'll be sending if and when I receive the wedding invitation. I feel neither the need nor the desire to impress my niece who has not taken the time to get to know me or see me when I lived in the same area. I'm past the age of caring what others think of me, especially when they do not know me. I'm sure there will be anger and venom headed in my direction, but my give a damn's busted.

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